Catholic schools win big in Wisconsin voucher scheme

Under Wisconsin’s regrettable expansion of school vouchers, Christian schools were the only winners, and more than 80% are Catholic. Every one of the 25 schools announced in August is a Christian school: 18 Catholic, four Lutheran and three nondenominational Christian schools.

The Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker radically expanded vouchers statewide in the 2013-15 budget. It’s expected that an average of $192.5 million in taxpayer funds will be spent each year on vouchers during the 2013-15 budget cycle.

In August, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction randomly chose 500 students to fill the openings. 

Contrary to pro-voucher propaganda claiming the expansion would give lower-income public school students a “choice,” only a quarter of participating students will come from public students. More than two-thirds (76%) of applicants did not attend public school last year, and 67% were already attending private schools.

“It’s appalling that taxpayer funding is going to provide Christian education to students already attending these religiously segregated and unaccountable parochial schools,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

“Where is the ‘choice’ in that?” asked Gaylor.

Under the new statewide scheme, the 25 schools receiving the most applicants will receive a tuition voucher worth $6,442 per enrolled student. 

One chosen school in Madison, Lighthouse Christian, apparently will be teaching creationism, compliments of state taxpayers.

Noted Wisconsin State Journal columnist Chris Rickert:

“[T]here is one bright line past which no public dollars should cross; it’s the line between schools that teach evolution and schools that shun evolution for ‘intelligent design,’ creationism or some such similar religiously based nonsense that warps kids’ minds and leaves them ill-prepared for responsible citizenship.”

Rickert added, “Thoughtful people should be disturbed that Madison’s Lighthouse Christian School is among those eligible to take voucher students under the Legislature’s recent expansion of the state program.”

State Rep. Sondy Pope, a voucher critic, said, “The voucher program is no longer providing the escape option from a failing public school; it has become a new state entitlement program that will cost taxpayers and directly compete with our constitutionally required public school system.”

FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott said, “Under the state’s system, only select religious schools were able to garner a high number of student applicants. The U.S. and Wisconsin Constitutions do not allow for preferential treatment to religion, which includes the prohibition against majority-rule funding schemes like this.” 

The number of vouchers will increase to 1,000 next year. Vouchers in Wisconsin were initially limited to Milwaukee but were expanded to Racine in 2011. Milwaukee’s voucher program started with 341 students in 1990 and now has nearly 25,000 students, with over 21,000 of them attending religious schools.

“This voucher program is being used as an inroad into completely funding religious education with taxpayer money. Vouchers must be stopped, not expanded,” said Gaylor.

Freedom From Religion Foundation